Welcome to Sound Cheque, where we sit down with one of our favorite bands to get the scoop on their city-by-city dining picks.
Freelance Whales. L to R: Chuck Criss, Judah Dadone, Doris Flynn Cellar, Kevin Read, Jacob Hyman
New York's Freelance Whales have compiled an impressive resume in their two-year history. Their music has been featured in TV shows on NBC, MTV, USA, and the CW. They can be heard on Chevy commercials and now Starbucks ads. They've completed multiple North American tours and are favorites of Spin Magazine and NPR. Was it the hours spent performing on subway platforms or just their plucky folk charm? Whatever the reason for their success, this multi-instrumental five-piece isn't slowing down any time soon. I caught up with Jake Hyman (drums/percussion/vocals) to talk about vegan man-dates and celeb-spotting over sushi.
I recently read that you were compelled to change your eating habits after watching Food, Inc. What did you change?
?I decided that as a responsible member of a capitalist republic, I should pay closer attention to where my dollar/vote is going and who or what it is supporting. For me, that means not buying products with extraneous ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, and trying to buy organically or locally wherever I can, with the focus being on meat and animal products.
Has this made it difficult eating on the road?
?At times it can be tough?I'm a milkshake and ice cream fanatic, so when the whole band is headed to a fast food place I get a craving. But for the most part I enjoy filling up on local meat where it's available and veggies when it's not. There have been a surprising number of restaurants able to satisfactorily answer the question, 'Where does your meat come from?' Even when the answer isn't "the farm next door," most waiters have been very receptive to the question. Surprised for sure, but also receptive and willing to seek out an answer for me if they don't know it themselves.
?Avoiding the obvious Portlandia reference here, but what have been some of your best experiences eating local on tour?
?We stopped in Bozeman, MT on the way through from Seattle to Minneapolis. There was a co-op – The Bozeman Community Food Co-op, in fact – with mountains of fresh produce and local meats. I spent at least an hour trying to figure out what I wanted to eat, and the band had to drag me out to get back in the van!
?Do you guys have any favorite cities to tour in because of the food — and if so, what are your favorite spots?
?Seattle is one of our favorite food cities. We have a tradition of going down to Pike Place and eying the fish. Judah is a bit of an odd-foods-geek, so he always finds something ripe and strange to pick at. There are also loads of other goodies in Seattle, like the ham-bao, and a small vegan place up near Neumos called Prune where I've gone on man-dates with both Chuck and Jeff (the band's sound engineer).
?Do you or anyone in the band have any particular food requirements on tour?
?Doris is a recent compassion-based vegetarian?whenever she eats meat, she is haunted by nightmares of animal attacks. So she's been steering clear of that. And on our last tour with Miniature Tigers we had a merch salesman named Kyle who was on a candy-only diet for most of the tour. Does that count?
?What are your favorite local New York spots you crave when away?
?I go to the Union Square Greenmarket twice a week at least, and when I'm not around I really miss perusing and talking to the vendors. There's also this amazing Indian place called Punjabi on First Avenue and First Street that has a rotating menu of six different vegetable curries. A plate of rice and three curries is only $5, and I eat there up to three times a week. And then there's the Remedy Diner, downstairs and about 20 feet from my apartment. It's a diner... what else is there to say?
?Do you have any dining rituals to stay healthy on the road?
?Doris became a vegetarian mid-tour, which was a bold move. Judah won't eat before a show, which makes sense. As someone who does eat before shows, I can attest to the gassiness caused by food and nerves and moving around a lot on stage. Chuck is religious about taking his multivitamin. And Kevin brings a tub of fish oil on tour and eats those things like M&M's.
We've all got our food-quirks, I think, but the one thing we swear by is the Blumpkin. On our first tour, Judah's mom bought us half of a Costco to help prevent tour-starvation. Amongst the mountain of delicious dried goods were: rice cakes, peanut butter, mixed nuts, and dried cranberries. Make an open-faced sandwich of the above foodstuffs, and you have yourself a Blumpkin.?
Do you splurge on more fine-dining/upscale restaurants at home or when touring? If so, do you have any favorites, please describe?
?We tend to have one splurge on every tour, which is always a nice way to get a look at the outside world and peek our heads out from the tour-bubble. On our last tour we stopped in L.A., which is always a treat because Chuck's brother Darren lives there. He told us bout his favorite sushi place, Katsuya, and we all went down there together and ate sushi for about three hours. The spicy tuna and crisped rice ball was one of the best bites I've ever eaten. Ryan Gosling was sitting at the sushi bar, so you know it's good.
??Your song "Generator 1st Floor" was used in a recent Starbucks campaign, did you guys catch any flack for being part of a Starbucks ad? I know here in Brooklyn and generally among the independent music community, support for local/independent businesses is a pretty big deal. What was the reception among your fans/peers to that?
?We haven't gotten too many negative responses about the Starbucks ad, which is a pleasant surprise. People have reacted with overwhelmingly good perspective on what it means for a band of our small stature and relative obscurity to have a song placed in a Starbucks campaign. I was certainly skeptical about it at first myself, so I can imagine how easy it would be for someone to write us off for this. But there are several things that our fans and I have realized that make the Starbucks campaign a mostly positive thing.
The most obvious is that we make music for a living, and the only way to do that is to actually make a living. Since record sales for small bands don't exist in any sort of truly profitable way, getting songs placed in TV shows, movies, and commercials is one of the best and only ways to go about making enough money to keep making music.
Less logistically, though, I think people know that Starbucks works hard to support the fair trade movement and they treat their employees notoriously well (they spend more on health insurance than on coffee beans), so it's hard to fault one of the more conscious and considerate huge corporations out there.
?Did you guys get a lifetime supply of Starbucks coffee beans or gift cards after lending your music for the ad? Are you guys coffee buffs?
?We would've loved a lifetime supply, but we're more than satisfied with our gift cards! We're non-denominational hot-drink enthusiasts, so it's really the perfect thing for us. Chuck takes his coffee black, Kevin with milk, Judah with milk and sugar, and Doris and I take it as sugary and white as you can make it. We also all love tea?greens and blacks and reds of all sorts.
?Do you have a go-to cocktail or beer you have before or after shows?
?Before shows I used to down a Jameson. Over 200 shows later, I can't handle that anymore. We usually stick to beer early and move onto whiskey later on.
?And on the flipside: do you have a go-to hangover remedy on the road?
?ADVIL. Seriously. That stuff is magic! Also Airborne helps replenish those electrolytes.
And finally, if?Freelance Whales could be summed up as a food or meal — what would it be?
?Some tiger prawns (with roe), whole braised pork shoulder (seitan for Doris), falling off the bone, swiss chard, mashed potatoes and good beer!??
And now the lightning round of your fave picks!
??Best burger: Bobcat Bites in Santa Fe, NM?
Best diner: Pamela's in Pittsburgh, PA or Café 101 in Los Angeles, CA?
Best pizza: Duffy's Dinkytown Pizza in Minneapolis, MN?
Best taco/burrito: Lolita's Taco Shop in San Diego, CA?
Best barbecue: Ruby's BBQ in Austin, TX?
Best coffee/tea shop- Ching Ching Cha in Washington, DC or Grounded in New York, NY?
Best bakery or sweets shop: Cupcake Royale in Seattle, WA?
Best bar: Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, OR or Welcome to the Johnsons' in New York, NY
Freelance Whales' debut album "Weathervanes" is available now on Frenchkiss Records and Mom + Pop Records.
Check out Freelance Whales' video for "Generator 2nd Floor":
Check out Freelance Whales' NPR performance of "Generator 1st Floor":
Also check out their new single "Day Off" on Green Label Sound: